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Marolt: Growing up in the school of hard turns

Everything I know about skiing I learned from my dad. For instance, skiing is the greatest sport except for the boots and the a-holes who do it. The thing you need to understand to make this relevant is that my dad was a really good skier for a very long time and was a keen observer of the gig.

It’s hard to say if skiing attracts arrogant people or if arrogant people are attracted to skiing. It doesn’t matter. Skiing is without hard objective or measurable outcome except for racing, which few skiers do. The result is loose subjectivity that makes all skiers imagine they are better than they are. We will have peace on Earth before humility on the hill. Be calm and deal with it.

Another thing is that you have to ski the crud or be a cruddy skier. Those weren’t Pop’s words but are the gist of what he believed. Carving the chalky, smooth snow of Highland Bowl is super fun, but it won’t make you a better skier.



We were on Silver Queen once, and there were a few inches of dust-laden, wet, spring snow that had been pounded by the wind all night, creating nearly impenetrable slabs of fracturing crud anchored between the polished tops of glaciated moguls. I shifted my 11-year-old weight every which way. I jumped. I stemmed. I blocked. I crashed at least a dozen times. I was nearly crying when I got to the bottom where my dad patiently waited. He smiled and said, “You just learned more about skiing in one run than you did all season.” That felt good!

Forget, even, that this is the key to becoming a good skier; when you look for crap to test you, the sport becomes immensely more interesting. It’s an ever-changing skiers’ world beyond the groomers and soft, round hero bumps. Powder gets old fast, figuratively and under the sun. Getting uncomfortable, risking looking out of whack and even getting frustrated are things that will make coming back worthwhile.



Extending the same logic, you might think my dad advocated using lousy skis to make it more challenging. Not so. If your skis aren’t tuned properly, they won’t work the way they are designed to work. If you don’t learn how they’re supposed to work, you can’t make them perform. Lift tickets are too expensive to waste fighting dull edges.

Another thing he preached is that skiing is not an endurance sport. The only thing being developed when you’re tired is bad technique. When you’re tired, you’re weak, and when you’re weak, you learn to ski like a weakling. If you want to get in shape, go to the gym. On the slopes, quit while you are still making strong turns.

Then, there’s practice. He had an interesting view of practice. He asked me why I had a long face on the drive home one day.

“I didn’t ski very well,” I told him.

“Oh well,” he said. “It’s a good thing we were just practicing.”

Wow!

Almost every time he headed for the slopes, he said something like, “Well, I think I’ll go up and practice a little.” He’d smile. We’d chuckle. His point we learned: Every day on the slopes is practice. His words forced us to follow the thread to the core of the ball: We were, in fact, practicing for nothing! What a revelation — since we were always practicing and there was never going to be an event, we didn’t have to take ourselves very seriously. Ha! Freedom!

There was other stuff, too, like don’t buckle your boots too tight because you can’t ski on numb feet, the only true avalanche experts are all dead and if you want to turn pure pleasure into an arduous obligation, start counting your days on the hill.

Maybe the coolest thing he taught us, though, was in a thing he did rather than said. His habit was to take a couple of runs at the end of the day. He loved closing the lifts down and arriving home at dusk just in time to relax with a drink and sit down for a family dinner.

I can’t tell you what exactly is so cool about that. I didn’t fully understand it until I adopted the practice. The closest I can come is by calling it an extended period of relaxation involving opposite ends of the spectrums of almost everything — moving from the thrill of the wind in your face to the warm comfort of home, connecting the dots of contentment. Father really did know best.

Roger Marolt knows that still finding skiing interesting after 50 years of doing it is only unbelievable to those who don’t. Email roger@maroltllp.com.


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